Cathay Pacific First Class Hong Kong – Chicago: “Burn Avios, Burn” Cathay Pacific First Class and Amazing Conrad Suites

Index:

The hotel dropped us off curbside and we entered the impressive Hong Kong airport. It doesn’t quite compare to Singapore’s Changi but it’s certainly one of the best and most impressive airports in the world.

Though our bags were already checked, and boarding passes printed at the Bangkok transit desk the day before, I stopped at the first class check-in desk to confirm that our bags had been properly tagged to Chicago O’Hare. In Koh Samui Bangkok Airways had tagged our bags to Hong kong, where Cathay told us they re-tagged them to Chicago for us and we didn’t need to pick them up on arrival the night before. But I wanted to make sure.

A couple of quick phone calls and this was confirmed, we headed through security and passport control. Lines were short and we were through in no time. Then it was off to the lounge. We were flying out of one of the clsoest gates, so we’d be using the Wing. Instead of just turning left after immigration and walking up to the first class entrance, I went into autopilot. I walked down the escalator and through the duty free area, and all the way down the corridor on the departures level to the business class entrance of the Wing. Why? Probably because that’s how I entered the Wing the last time I was there, and even though I was flying in first class. I had gone to the business class checkin desk and was sent up the elevator to the first class portion of the lounge.

When I got to (what turns out to be the recently-reopened entrance of) the business class lounge, I showed my boarding pass and lounge invitation. They said “but you’re supposed to go to the first class lounge.” There was no elevator upstairs, because the lounge renovations meant that the business class portion of the upstairs was closed. So I had to walk back down the corridor of departure gates, back through the duty free, up the escalator, and then down the hall past the exit of passport control in order to get to the entrance of the first class side of the lounge.

The best, most unique feature of the first class side of the Wing are The Cabanas, really just shower rooms but with bathtubs and their own deck with lounge chairs which look out over a creek inside the lounge. But having gotten up in the morning at my hotel there was no need for a shower on this visit.

Instead, I poked my head into the “The Library” which was empty

Before settling into the open air seating of the lounge, which I much prefer because of all of the light and the view over airport operations.

I visited the first class dining room, I’ve never been of fan of it though. While the lounge itself is quite open and bright, the dining room has no windows. Service is good, you’re immediately met as you walk in with an offer to be seated. But I don’t find it a comfortable or relaxing space, I’d rather just make a plate and take it to my seat in the main lounge area. That way I can sit on a comfortable couch with my laptop while snacking. So that’s what I did.

Back at my place on the couch, the lounge attendant brought me some coffee and I caught up on email while snacking on dim sum. In the past I’ve been really disappointed in the food quality, this time it was much improved.

I also walked over to the slow antiquated desktop computers so that I could check in for my United flight home from Chicago to DC, which was on a separate ticket. I pulled up my reservation but I couldn’t check in, the system said it couldn’t find my e-ticket associated with the reservation. No worries, I had a long layover booked in Chicago since I was on a separate ticket and it was Thanksgiving weekend (who knows how easy it would be to get on a later flight if I missed mine). I assumed it had something to do with my upgrade and didn’t worry about it.

Soon enough it was time to head down to the gate for boarding, so again out the lounge, down the escalator, through duty free, and down the corridor on the departures level. Once to the gate there were two lines into the gate area (one for economy and one for premium cabin passengers). Once through the line people were directed to security contractors at tables who would search carryons and confiscate liquids.

Hong Kong doesn’t require taking liquids out at the security checkpoint, people can buy their liquids inside the terminal but those cannot be taken onboard. I’d hate to be a coach passenger departing Hong Kong since there’s no ability to bring bottled water onboard to be self-sufficient in hydrating.

After my laptop bag and carryon were thoroughly searched we boarded the aircraft and settled in for the long flight.

Newspapers and pre-departure beverages were served, I began with Krug

Amenity kits were distributed

I was given my pajamas, and it was soon time to begin our takeoff roll

Once airborne, drinks and nuts were served, I don’t know if the nuts were heated because I’m not a fan of almonds.

Menus were distributed, and I let the flight attendant know that I’d be taking lunch across the aisle in my wife’s suite. I went over and belted myself into the buddy seat, the flight attendant came over and installed the table extender and set our places.

    LUNCH

    Caviar and Balik salmon “Tsar Nicolaj”

    International Favourites
    Cannellini veloute with extra virgin olive oil, toasted fennel and lobster medallion

    Traditional caesar salad

    Slow simmered veal shoulder and parsnips, herb vinaigrette
    Or
    Eggplant and roasted garlic agnolotti with saffron tomato cream sauce, asparagus and peppers

    Chinese Favourites
    Double boiled chicken with American ginseng soup

    Cold plate – Szechuan styyle jelly fish and cucumber salad

    Braised duck with taro in preserved red beans sauce
    Or
    Deep fried prawn with sweet vinegar sauce

    Served with steamed jasmine rice and sautéed pea sprout

    Cheese and Dessert
    Stilton, Pecorino, St. Paulin, Camembert

    Fresh berries with cream

    Warm hazelnut cake with chocolate ice cream and vanilla sauce

    Lotus seed paste sweet soup

    Tea and Coffee

    Pralines

At that point I realized that my camera battery had died. I managed to extricate myself from the seat, it’s a tight fit with the table extender installed but I went over to get my camera’s power adapter to plug into the seat. While it recharged I skipped taking photos of the first course, but then I’ve shown pictures of Cathay Pacific’s caviar and salmon service multiple times in the past on this blog so I didn’t think anyone would be missing much.

After the caviar, my wife had the Chinese soup and I had the Western first course.

We both did Chinese after that, she the prawns and I the duck.

I was feeling replete and neither of us were up for dessert so we shared a cheese plate.

Back to my seat, I had a cappuccino which they brought with pralines.

A bit of relaxing and I decided to change into my pajamas. While I was gone a flight attendant made up my bed but left it in relaxation mode rather than fully flat, perfect for a bit of movie watching before trying to get some sleep. Normally I had a hard time sleeping on a long haul flight that leaves before noon! But after a hard week of relaxation I was strangely tired and began to drift off fairly quickly.

I decided to sleep, but didn’t find it easy. The cabin was filled 5 of 6, in front of me was a man who had just crossed the million miles threshold with Marco Polo Club, something that the flight attendant acknowledged when greeting him. On the other side of the cabin was a late 30s husband and wife with a lap infant that must have been pushing the two year old cap for that status. The child was well-behaved as far as such things go, no crying, but unfortunately the parents weren’t so well-behaved.

After the meal the parents began playing with the kid, he was running back and forth in the cabin between the two seats and while he wasn’t yelling per se he didn’t exactly have an airplane voice. The loud baby talk made it difficult to fall asleep, I’d nod off for a moment and then I’d be woken. My wife wasn’t tired, so I quickly dismissed the idea because I didn’t want to seek refuge in a different cabin than she was in, but I considered asking to downgrade to business class so I could get some sleep. I saw the gentleman ahead of me was visually disturbed. He kept getting up and looking around before settling back into his seat.

I finally got up, looked over my wife’s suite at the parents on the other side, and just gave a look. And I kept looking. They stopped encouraging the kid, he quieted down, and I was able to settle into my bed and get some rest.

While trying to fall asleep I began pondering the age-old question of children in first class. I was frustrated so I began thinking that children just do not belong in an international first class cabin. But what if they were relegated to business class? They’d disturb the larger business class cabin! Should children be relegated to coach? Sure those seats cost less (hey, I was using miles for my first class seat!) but the last thing you need in a mass of people is a crying baby! I don’t know that class of service restrictions make sense. Especially when the kid who was prompting my thoughts really wasn’t at fault. It was the parents. I totally get that they were tiring him out, or just oblivious, or amusing themselves. The kid didn’t cry, he was just loud. Very loud. I do question whether making purely discretionary transpacific journeys with a child under two makes sense, or at least I think that parents should take fellow passengers into consideration when deciding whether to take such a trip. They should consider not taking it, only take the most well-behaved and docile children, and take every possible precaution to try to minimize disruption for the rest of the cabin.

With those thoughts I did manage to get substantial sleep despite a fairly bumpy ride across the Pacific. By the time I had had my first meal, watched a bit of television without purpose, and slept six hours we were about 10 hours into our 13 hour flight time. I never partook of the snack menu:

    SNACKS

    Hong Kong style egg tart

    Assorted sandwiches
    Shrimp and lemon cream cheese, mango cheddar cheese chutney, parma ham with sun-dried tomato and cornichon

    Shui gaw with choy sum in noodle soup

    Briased beef and tendon with chu hou sauce in ho fun noodle soup

    From our series of classic Signature dishes
    Hot pot rice with preserved meat, served with sliced chicken soup with Ceylon spinach

    Ice cream

After a bit more StudioCX I decided to take my breakfast.

    BRUNCH

    Starters
    Orange, apple or grapefruit juice

    Mango & passion fruit smoothie

    Fresh seasonal fruit

    Natural or fruit yoghurt from Le Ferme due Manege

    Assorted cereals

    Main Courses
    Organic free range eggs – freshly scrambled, fried, or boiled
    Served with your choice of pan-fried potato cake with cheese and spring onion, broiled back bacon, pan-fried pork sausage, roasted vine ripened tomato and parsley, sautéed mixed fresh mushrooms

    Dim sum served with chili sauce
    Pork siu mai with scallop, seafood dumpling, chicken and ham in bean curd skin, conpoy vegetable dumpling, beef meatball

    Abalone and chicken congee, stir-fried rice roll with dried shrimp and spring onion in X.O. sauce

    Bread Basket
    Assorted breakfast bread and fresh toast
    Served with MRs. Bridges Scottish preserves, Tasmanian meadow honry and butter

    Tea and Coffee

    Pralines

I skipped the starters except for some fresh squeezed orange juice (one of my favorite pleasures on an airplane) and began with the eggs:

Followed by the dim sum, I really can’t skip dim sum on a Cathay Pacific flight!

After breakfast I changed back into my clothes, returned to my seat and my bedding had already been cleared away for me. A bit of reading and we were ready to arrive at O’Hare about 90 minutes early, but then we circled on approach for about 30 minutes. After taxiing we were at the gate a full hour ahead of schedule. It had been awhile since I’ve arrived in Chicago off an international flight, I had an excruciatingly long walk along a sterile corridor with low ceiling and no adornment until almost out of nowhere was a picture of the President and Vice President. This time it was just a short walk to immigration, virtually no line, and I didn’t get a single question on my way through. First class bags were off first on the premium cabin carousel, and I walked straight through customs.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community Milepoint.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Is the lounge Cabana worth putting on my bucket list for use of miles…? Who doesn’t love lounging creekside 🙂

  2. This menu actually said “Veal Shoulder”. When I flew from HKG-YYZ in First 1 week ago, it just said “shoulder” and I had to ask what it was…. ^_^!

    It was veal, and was it DELICIOUS!

    ED.

  3. Wbhy didn’t you check your bags though to DC? Saved us an easy 30 minutes not have to mess with checking in ORD.

  4. Ah, kids- the eternal argument… But why stop with them- I dislike people with all the following behaviors-

    – overweight people
    – people with body odor
    – people who snore
    – people who keep getting up to the bathroom
    – people who make phone calls on the plane (in the past, with a credit card; now using VOIP and in-flight wifi. The most irritating part? Every call starts with “Guess where I’m calling from? The plane!” Hate those people).

    Bottom line is, unless we ban all obnoxious behavior, I don’t see how we can justify banning children. Certainly there is no basis for keeping them out of First Class or Business Class- as you point out, everyone in premium class has a choice if they want to get out. You can always find a volunteer to swap with you and sit in the back…

  5. Pretty stupid comment about children.

    I´m blessed with a 6 and a 2 year old and they fly regularly with me in F.

    I always try to get them on their best behaviour, but on a 12 to 15 hour flight there´re always moments when their energy levels are just to much.

    Your suggestion of ” I do question whether making purely discretionary transpacific journeys with a child under two makes sense, or at least I think that parents should take fellow passengers into consideration when deciding whether to take such a trip. They should consider not taking it, only take the most well-behaved and docile children, and take every possible precaution to try to minimize disruption for the rest of the cabin.” seems with to have a rather nazi appeal specially the part about only the most well behaved and docile.

    You don´t need my time on your blog and I´ll not waste it anymore reading it.

  6. @Pvc I don’t think that people who either pay tens of thousands of dollars extra, or spend many thousands of miles more, in hopes of an enjoyable, relaxing, perhaps even luxurious flight are “nazis” for not wanting that highly anticipated experience ruined by young children running amok in First Class. The fact that you know you cannot contain your children for the full flight, no matter how much you try, is the very reason they should not be in First Class.

    @George “You can always find a volunteer to swap with you and sit in the back”

    And will that volunteer refund the extra thousands of dollars, or thousands of mles, that I spent to get that special First Class seat ? As if there would be fewer disruptive children in economy anyway. The idea that someone who paid, in dollars or miles, for First Class should be banished to economy, in favor to a disruptive child is absurd.

  7. @robert hanson

    the parents are paying tens of thousands too. why should they have to be subjected to “the look” just because someone thinks they’re being too loud? there’s two sides to this.

    @gary

    why not just put in earplugs or headphones? surely that is less dykwia esque than throwing around the look.

  8. You gave them the LOOK? LOL Sounds like you had a DYKWIA moment. And to think there is a good chance they actually paid good money….

  9. I presume you don’t have children, right? Because no child, even an older one, can be asked to be quiet and “docile” for a 14h flight. And parents cannot be asked to simply stop travelling in comfort to nice destinations(you enjoy that too, don’t you – funny, parents do too!) just because they have children. I’d MUCH rather have loud children in my cabin than obnoxious, loud and drunk businessmen trying to hit on me when I fly alone. I’d LOVE to ban those creeps from the first class cabin, but alas, that ain’t gonna happen. The idea of a passenger giving me a passive-aggressive “look” when I am already struggling to keep my child from bothering people is dreadful. Really, I think we should ban child-hating people from first class. But oh, wouldn’t they then bother parents and children in business class? Maybe it’s best to put them back in coach!

  10. @Hannah while you write, “The idea of a passenger giving me a passive-aggressive “look” when I am already struggling to keep my child from bothering people is dreadful” my point was that the parents in question were NOT struggling to keep their child from bothering people, rather they were ENCOURAGING the child to run between them in the cabin. It was the parents I was finding fault with, not the child…

  11. @Robert Hanson- if your “special first class” seat comes with a 5 year old next to you, you have two choices- either stay where you are and enjoy the food and services and the company, or switch with someone in the back- I’m sure that out of 250 passengers, you can easily find someone in a quiet part of the plane willing to switch with you.

    And, no, you don’t get a refund of your miles, anymore than I would get a refund when I can’t stand sitting next to an intolerant nazi like you, and have to switch to the back instead.

  12. Ah, kids- the eternal argument… But why stop with them- I dislike people with all the following behaviors-

    – overweight people
    – people with body odor
    – people who snore
    – people who keep getting up to the bathroom
    – people who make phone calls on the plane (in the past, with a credit card; now using VOIP and in-flight wifi. The most irritating part? Every call starts with “Guess where I’m calling from? The plane!” Hate those people).

    Bottom line is, unless we ban all obnoxious behavior, I don’t see how we can justify banning children. Certainly there is no basis for keeping them out of First Class or Business Class- as you point out, everyone in premium class has a choice if they want to get out. You can always find a volunteer to swap with you and sit in the back…

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